Star Trek The Wrath of Khan – great sci-fi moments number 15

HAS any science fiction fan not yelled KHAAANNN! with Kirk-like relish at some point in their lives?

That is the scene everyone remembers from the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, but it is only one wonderful part of a perfect film which makes the sci-fi moments list in its entirety.

TWoK is a work of art, blending together debates on old age, revenge, and technology with compelling action and special effects, a great story, brilliant soundtrack and  moments of heartfelt emotion, character, victory and shocking, gut-wrenching loss. Click here to buy it.

And yet it could all have been so different. While new producer Harve Bennett identified Khan as a fantastic black hat villain when he watched all the original series,  story draft after story draft was produced, all of which were garbage. (William Shatner goes into great detail about this in his Star Trek Movie Memories book, well worth a read)

Enter Nicholas Meyer, a young director who sat down with every draft and cherry picked the best bits of each, be it a line of dialogue, a stage direction, whatever, before combining them into something resembling what we see on screen – in just 10 days.

Even then, he wasn’t finished. For instance with news of Spock’s death sparking outrage among Star Trek fans (just imagine what it would be like now!) he suggested moving his ‘death’ aboard the Kobayashi Maru simulator to the start of the film, to freak everyone out.

The move was inspired as everyone watching it relaxed, with Spock’s later sacrifice to save the crew and his friends having 10 times the impact as a result.

Indeed, that is probably the greatest moment in the film or in all of Star Trek – painful and raw and undeniably human and real.

Why is it so affecting? Well, for Star Trek fans they have decades of love for these characters to draw upon, so the loss of one would obviously be affecting. But even if you only watch the film and nothing else, Meyer crafts several scenes which carefully illustrate the depth of the relationships between these men.

When Spock and Kirk discuss Kirk taking command and their friendship, or they join Bones to argue over the morals and merits of the Genesis project, it adds depth and allows us to share in their comradeship and even love for each other and – by extension – for the rest of the original crew too.

Even their little asides about using glasses or the film’s subplot about getting old make them more real.

That is something many modern day film-makers could learn from and copy, instead of relying upon special effects and 3D to dazzle the viewer and disguise puddle-deep stories and characters.

Of course, that is only half the story and TWoK would not be the film it is without a magnificently driven and nuanced performance from Ricardo Montalban as Khan, a genetically modified superman from Earth’s past.

He is simply breathtaking, burning up the screen as he is consumed by his fatal desire for vengeance against Kirk, just like Captain Ahab in his quest to kill the white whale, Moby Dick.

That passion comes from what he sees as a noble cause – the death of Khan’s wife, after the planet Kirk left them on to build a society in the original series episode Space Seed is laid waste by a stellar disaster.

Most of his dialogue is lifted directly from Ahab and energised by Montalban’s delivery to – of all people – a crew member reading Kirk’s lines as his scenes were filmed first. (In fact, did you know there never was a USS Reliant? It was just the Enterprise’s bridge, redressed)

His first mate Joaquin even implores with him to end his quest for revenge and head out across the stars, just like Starbuck did on the Pequod in Herman Melville‘s wonderful novel.

Interestingly it was not Star Trek’s last flirtation with Ahab, as Picard in the Next Generation film First Contact admits his destructive desire to defeat the Borg at all costs by quoting ‘He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.’

As good as First Contact was, it pales next to Wrath of Khan though. In fact all the other Star Trek films do, including JJ Abrams’ lauded rebooting of the franchise – which brings me on to my final point.

A new Star Trek film is currently being worked up and its creators have pondered in interviews over whether or not to introduce Khan to new Trek.

A word of advice? Don’t. Two more? Really don’t.

You will never make a film as good as this and instead risk cheapening the memory of a fantastic character and a majestic film, both of which more than deserve their place in the list of great science fiction moments.

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on “Star Trek The Wrath of Khan – great sci-fi moments number 15
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